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Q&A: Lorraine Gordon

The Village Vanguard's Guardian Angel

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Legendary jazz club the Village Vanguard has turned 67, and Lincoln Center is throwing it a party this week, complete with performances by everyone from Woody Allen to Paul Simon. Accepting the accolades is Lorraine Gordon, who took over the club after her husband, Max, died in 1989, and she "realized that no one could fire me." Gordon was there when Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young jammed in the forties, Lenny Bruce talked dirty in the fifties, and John Coltrane led clangorous séances in the sixties. And now, long after the Village has been overrun by Starbucks, microbreweries, and Monica Lewinsky, she's still there, ready to recall the best -- and worst -- of times.

What do you remember about the night in 1961 when Coltrane recorded Live at the Village Vanguard?

He never took that saxophone out of his mouth, even to speak. I don't think he ever said a word to me.

Who was the most difficult musician to work with?

Charlie Mingus was no angel. He could be adorable, but he was also very violent and he ate a lot. One night, he broke the front door off its hinges and took it home with him. Another night, he broke the light above the bandstand in a fit of anger. We never replaced it.

One musician told me that when he tried to let in friends at the back door, you punched him.

Oh, please. I never punched anyone. How do these stories get around?

But I like the idea of you as a bouncer.

Sweetheart, I'm a bouncer with my mouth, not my fist.

Does Bill Clinton ever come here?

No, but when Henry Kissinger came, I made him pay at the door. I didn't even want to give him a table, but I had to because he was with that guy Havel.


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